Saturday, August 7, 2021

Pride Befalls the Devotee?

"Sadhu, Beware" is one of the books (of nearly 150) that Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) wrote. It, together with the Nayaswami Order that he founded in 2009 ( outlines the new dispensation of consciousness that truthseekers and true devotees manifest in this new era of awakening. In both books, the key is to recognize the need to strive for ego transcendence but only in the context of seeking the true happiness, the bliss, of the immortal soul.

Paramhansa Yogananda noted that renunciates have long had the tendency to become proud of their outward renunciation of family and material life, viewing mere householders as having not made the spiritual grade. The respect and support of society towards monasteries, convents, churches, priests, nuns and monks was sometimes considered owed to them as their monastic right and their ofttimes privileges. I grew up around priests and nuns and later, after nearly two years in a preparatory seminary for the study of the priesthood, when I decided it wasn't for me, there could be no erasing the sense of spiritual failure. As I grew into adulthood I observed many (if in fact thousands or millions worldwide) monks and nuns leaving the monasteries during the turbulent '60's and '70's. The first thing most of them did was to find a partner to marry. Curiously, however, very few abandoned their spiritual goals and idealism. Like me, the old form of renunciation no longer held sway over our heart's inspiration.

Many years later, in 1978 Padma and I were married at Ananda Village, with Swami Kriyananda officiating (today as I write it is our 43rd anniversary). Even then, there was for me a lingering sense that the householder state was, spiritually, a concession to merely human needs and desires. Besides, at that time as for so many centuries before, a dynamic group of monks and especially nuns guided by Swami Kriyananda were the storm troopers during those first challenging but intensely joyful years of Ananda's history. But Ananda was destined to become a community not merely a monastery and so a few years later most of the monks and nuns married (generally, one another). Swamiji taught us that Yogananda's vision of what he called "World Brotherhood Colonies" included individuals in all stations of life and ages. Swamiji felt that the success of Ananda was aided by not having too many rules and not insisting that all community residents live communally, though the example and experience can be very helpful for individuals for at least a period of time.

Paramhansa Yogananda taught that, in accordance with the dispensation given by Mahavatar Babaji to Lahiri Mahasaya (founder of Kriya Yoga in the modern age), all sincere seekers would have access to the highest spiritual teachings and techniques. No longer would priestly secrecy combine with human ignorance and indifference to cause the practical yoga teachings of higher ages to disappear or be relegated to a few monastics in caves and forests.

One would think that the new egalitarian spirit of the modern age would have swept away the pride that can come with spiritual growth. And to a very large extent, it has: especially in the Ananda communities where social status or spiritual roles are not emphasized. But human nature hasn't changed.

I recall Swami Kriyananda noting that the acceleration of spiritual growth that comes with the higher yoga teachings such as Kriya Yoga can, in some people, energize one's ego involvement. The example he would use would be the sunlight streaming through a stained glass window. At night when little light comes through the stained glass, the glass is dark and the panes are not distinguishable. But in the day, all the colors stand out. Thus when more energy goes through the body and mind from deep yoga practice and the intensity of divine service, it illuminates both the beautiful panes of our personality but also the other ones. Hence it is, he taught, that sometimes a person can make significant spiritual advancement and as a consequence and there appears not-so-spiritual traits such as impatience, irritability, and pride, to name a few. 

Swami Kriyananda pointed out the last great test before enlightenment is the surrender of the separate sense of self which we call the ego, In the yoga teachings, spiritual awakening is described as an upward movement of Life Force through spinal centers called chakras in the astral channel called the Sushumna. The last chakra, energy-center, before the Life Force unites with the higher Self is also the location of the ego (at the base of the brain in the region of the medulla oblongata). Enlightenment occurs when, by daily repeated self-surrender, our center of "gravity" moves from the medulla to its positive pole in the forehead: the seat of enlightenment and the location of the Divine Ego

But the steps to enlightenment never proceed in a linear way. Like a great battle between the soldiers of soul vs. ego, there are skirmishes when one side or the other advances and perhaps later retreats. Sometimes lesser identifications and attachments can be washed away by a full-frontal assault on the castle of inner peace by the rising power of the purified ego (sometimes called the power of Kundalini).

Swami Kriyananda pointed out that pride of worldly accomplishment or position is always assailed by the law of duality in the forms of competition, misfortune, personal flaws, or simply by one's death. The example of a successful company that crumbles after the death of its founder is an all-too-common one. History is the study of the rise and fall of nations: rising because of high energy and falling because of pride and inner conflict.

But, Swamiji, continued: the devotee who rises in spiritual power meets no self-balancing pendulum because spiritual power is the very nature of the soul. Wisdom, compassion, intuition, energy, and joy are derived from divine consciousness. It is powerfully magnetic and can bring to one public acclaim. Therefore, the only stain on spiritual awakening until it can be overcome is that usual self-promoter, the ego: the interloper who claims for himself the spiritual powers that have arisen. 

This is just one reason why self-offering (devotion) and humility (self-forgetfulness) are the necessary safeguards recommended to the devotee.  

One form of ego activity, pernicious indeed though hardly limited to devotees, is the tendency to compare ourselves with others. Since Ananda's core mission includes intentional spiritual communities, groups of devotees living and serving in close quarters are especially vulnerable, as were (are) traditional renunciates in monasteries in former times. Generally, most of us, if we do compare our spiritual growth with others, find fault with ourselves. But as Yogananda would put it, "inferiority complex or superiority complex" are two sides of the same coin of the ego. 

Thus, when we tire of berating ourselves, we, "in for a penny, in for a pound," usually become quite aware of the spiritual and human failings of our brothers and sisters. In order to prevent fostering this oscillating ego-centric wheel, each person in the community is encouraged to take seriously the effort to gently re-direct our thoughts God-ward and, in respect to a fellow devotee-friend who might temporarily have entered the magic circle of Maya, to do the same.

Since time immemorial devotees have been divided along such lines as devotion, intelligence (wisdom) and service. Those who go by devotion consider intelligence to be dry and pridefully heady, and service as simply busywork, unmindful of God. Those who go by service tend to think of intelligence or devotion as lacking in usefulness and compassion. Those who go by intelligence look down at devotion as simple-minded and service as using brawn instead of brains, as if in service one forgets the higher purpose of that service, or imagines their service to be more important than that of others. 

Then there are basic differences between those who incline to be more personal and those who incline to be more impersonal. Given that we have a body and personality, these distinctions can never be absolute. But this parallels the ages-old debate of whether God is personal or impersonal. Each side scoffs at the other as if one side of a coin could call the other side debased!.

Those whose tendency is more personal imagine those who work impersonally in organizing, planning or outreach ministry to be lacking devotion or, worse, seeking ego aggrandizement. Those who incline to be more impersonal see those who are personal as ego-active and lacking in non-attachment, preferring one person over another and dividing people into camps. 

Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda spent a large portion of their lives giving public lectures, writing books and traveling to share the teachings of this new dispensation of Kriya Yoga. Yet, they had innumerable personal relationships that were deeply meaningful, loving and supportive. Each encouraged their respective members to find ways to serve that were suitable to their own natures and dharma. The wide range of activities that were spawned in selfless service of the high principles of Self-realization included cafes, farms, bookstores, retreats, publishing, workshops, books, clothing store, and yoga centers. 

Both are necessary. God is personal in you and me and impersonal in Infinity and in creation. God doesn't care that much WHAT we do but HOW (and with what devotion) we conduct our activities. Yogananda was vilified for using modern business methods to share his teachings. His response was, among other things, to insist that were Jesus alive today he would do the same. The error, he said, is to use religion to make money. It is acceptable, he said, to use modern business methods to share spiritual teachings. 

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes remind us that some "name" on the Ananda mailing list might be the greatest saint among us. He gave examples of what an important service it is to let the world know about Yogananda's teachings for our new age.

Whether in the medieval times in the heyday of worldwide monasticism or in everyday organizational dynamics, 20% are the tried and true. But these would not find an outlet for their lifestyle were it not for the public or larger support of the 80%. The 80%, in turn, benefit from the inspiration and example of the 20%. Both are needed just as in the same way we rest at night; have hobbies; playtime; downtime as well as focused time.

Our world is rapidly changing. To say so is almost trite, these days. The transformation from aggressive self-interest and depletion of natural resources to a more balanced, healthy, and cooperative lifestyle is taking place in different forms and venues throughout the world: from the boardroom to the classroom to the village, jungle, mountains, and plains. The very inclusive outlook that is the essence of the precepts of Vedanta and the "Perennial Philosophy", as well as the very essence of science, suggests that we view all as parts of a great symphony of Life where the real Doer is God working through those who will offer themselves to the Divine will. Respect and appreciation for the individual's right to walk their path of life are essential for the benefit of all.

Joy and blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda!